Orlando welcomed a record 75 million visitors in 2018 (up 4.2% over 2017), marking another year as America’s most visited destination. Economist Daryl Cronk, senior director of market research and insights at Visit Orlando, explores how Orlando maintains its ranking, where we’re seeing the biggest wins and the top takeaways for our economy.
Senior Director of Market Research & Insights, Visit Orlando
What factors are behind this success?
Orlando’s vibrant growth keeps our destination fresh, relevant and intriguing for visitors. In 2018, our theme parks and International Drive opened new attractions, our hotels began adding room inventory at levels not seen in 20 years, and Orlando International Airport continued major upgrades that led to record passenger traffic. These things, combined with strong global sales and marketing by Visit Orlando, helped our destination reach a truly historic milestone for visitation.
What trends did we see in international visitation in 2018?
Despite a very strong dollar and some global economic headwinds, Orlando managed to grow visitation from our core markets of Canada, the UK and Brazil. Together, these three countries account for roughly half of our 6.89 million international visitors. In addition, Latin America was a real source of strength, with Brazilian travel increasing by over 8%, Colombia up nearly 7%, and Mexico rising more than 13%. As evidence of our destination’s sustained appeal, Orlando achieved 5.4% growth from countries outside the U.S., ahead of the national average of 2%.
How did U.S. markets fare?
Domestic visitation to Orlando grew 4% over 2017. The Northeast continued to be a crucial market, particularly New York and New Jersey, along with Pennsylvania, as well as Texas and the Southeast. In 2018, Visit Orlando increased our marketing programs for domestic audiences to capitalize on the improving economy in our key U.S. regions.
How did Orlando perform with business travelers in 2018?
The meeting and conventions industry marked another excellent year, creating a $7.1 billion economic impact locally and maintaining our ranking as Cvent’s top meetings destination. Following a record performance in 2017, we saw our second-best year ever for citywide attendance at the Orange County Convention Center. And lending a major boost to our marketing, we also announced the Convention Center’s $605 million capital expansion plan.
What’s on the horizon for visitation in 2019?
So far, our tourism industry has seen slightly slower growth in areas such as hotel demand and occupancy. However, total passenger traffic at Orlando International Airport continues its steady rise and, in another encouraging sign, leisure and hospitality employment is also making strong gains compared to last year. Regardless of economic conditions, driving a greater share of visitation by marketing our destination is essential to sustaining our growth as the country’s top destination.
President & CEO of Visit Orlando
CREATING EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES FOR VISITORS
As you might imagine, I often hear visitors describe Orlando as “like nowhere else.” Behind the emotion in these words lies a powerful truth: the importance of the customer experience, or the way brands and their customers interact over time. Just like businesses, destinations that create remarkable experiences set themselves apart from competitors. On that front, Orlando’s tourism industry delivered exceptional results in 2018, growing our roster of attractions at the theme parks and beyond. Of course, even more is on the way in 2019 and beyond, including this month’s highly anticipated opening of Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Upholding Orlando’s status as the most visited destination in the U.S. doesn’t happen by resting on our laurels. It takes a conscious effort to expand our offerings, giving visitors more reasons to return, again and again, and ensuring we send a strong message to consumers globally.
Spreading the word about Orlando’s many new assets is a big part of our formula for success, and Visit Orlando is the only organization that markets, brands and sells the full scope of our destination worldwide. We work in tandem with our diverse tourism industry members to keep Orlando at the forefront for leisure and business travelers alike. By creating memorable experiences for visitors, we strengthen an industry that supports 41% of our region’s workforce. The rising tide of tourism lifts all boats, benefiting residents through revenue that enhances our quality of life, and that’s all the more reason to continue reimagining our extraordinary visitor experience in the years to come.